- Update: The first of the “bus lanes will cause congestion” arguments has already appeared!
- Update: TRANSIT’s letters have appeared in the Malaysian Insider and Star!
TRANSIT was told about this interesting article in the Streets-NST describing a plan for dedicated bus lanes along 13 corridors in Kuala Lumpur – bus lanes that would be separated from other traffic by kerbs.
This scan of the cut-out article also gives feedback from commuters on the BRT proposal.
This system is similar to the “Bus-Rapid Transit” design concept – a way to make bus service more efficient by replicating the most positive features of a rapid transit system (the dedicated right-of-way, high frequency and comfortable “stations”) with the lower implementation & operations costs of a bus system.
FOR BUSES ONLY
By Halim Said
KUALA LUMPUR: Plans for a dedicated inter-city bus lanes with barriers are currently in the pipeline.
The Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) is currently studying the feasibility of implementing the system which will be part of the Klang Valley integral public transportation transformation master plan.[TRANSIT: And not a moment too soon – the picture above is only one example of how the existing bus lanes “system” (that’s a generous descriptor) is abused (by motorists and bus drivers) and largely ineffective in reducing traffic congestion and encouraging people to use public transport.]
The dedicated lanes with barriers all along the lane is a system that will be applied to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) concept which will separate the stage buses from busy traffic on main roads.
[TRANSIT: People in Malaysia are really unfamiliar with the concept of bus rapid transit (we’ve never seen it before, so this is not unexpected) and will probably try to understand it in the context our our existing “sit-and-wait-for-passengers” stage bus system. They are not one and the same and the message will have to get out.]
In an exclusive interview with Streets, SPAD chief executive officer Mohd Nur Ismal Kamal revealed that 13 corridors in the Greater KL boundaries have been identified for the development of the BRT lanes.
However, Mohd Nur Ismal said the details of the project will be made known by September as the master plan is still being reviewed by SPAD.
He also said meetings with local councils will be held to fine-tune the master plan’s details.
[TRANSIT: We have to wonder if we get a chance to fine tune the master plan – after all, we think we have done a little bit to help many of these ideas (ERT, BRT) gain traction in Malaysia.]
“When the master plan is finished, the public will get to scrutinise it as SPAD intends to display it publicly,” he said.
Though the system may seem similar to the existing special bus and taxi dedicated lanes located around the city, Mohd Nur Ismal said the BRT lanes would only be operated by a single bus operator.
[TRANSIT: That means RapidKL, most likely.]
He said the BRT system would allow the bus operator to provide an efficient bus service as it will be interconnected with other forms of mass transportation in the city such as the LRT service and the soon-to-be-built MRT tracks.
He said passengers who use the BRT lanes will only need to pay at the designated station before boarding the buses which will be located within a walking distance to other transportation networks.
[TRANSIT: Interestingly enough, the Transjakarta busway actually has multiple operators (bus companies) but one brand (TransJakarta). So we have to ask, why can’t the other stage bus operators compete to provide service on this BRT?]
“The system would facilitate passengers to reach their destinations via an interconnected public transport network, thus encouraging more public transport usage,” he said.
He added if the system is feasible, Malaysia will join other countries such as China, Brazil, Australia, the United States and Europe which have adopted the BRT system and now enjoy a good mass public transportation system.
[TRANSIT: Interesting that he did not mention the Bus Rapid Transit system(s) in our next door neighbours – Bangkok in Thailand, and Jakarta in Indonesia. There are other “Trans” bus systems operating in or planned for 7 other Indonesian cities]
“After adopting the BRT system, Istanbul, for instance, has seen a 30 per cent reduction in traffic congestion and subsequently an improved traffic system,” he said.
Now as you know, TRANSIT has had a lot to say about making the tough choices and redesigning our road space for greater movement of people, rather than just cars. We do not believe that bus lanes are a waste, but do believe that there is room and need for improvement.
We do not believe that bus lanes (especially bus rapid transit) cause congestion. If anything, physically-separate bus lanes can reduce congestion by allowing buses and other traffic to move more smoothly without interactions between these different traffic forms – interactions that cause congestion.
To make the BRT effective we need:
- To consider losing a few expressways – or at least, making sure that these expressways make space for public transport;
- To design bus rapid transit that is accessible – because these services will lack the infrastructure of LRT and MRT stations (not much parking, feeder bus drop off, etc) they will have to be within walking distance of the majority of their users;
- To educate the public that bus lanes and Bus Rapid Transit do not cause congestion – indeed, this will be one of the toughest challenges for SPAD to face;
- To be willing to take necessary steps to reduce traffic volumes in our cities – including the use of transit malls and congestion charges.
- To understand that half-measures will get us nowhere. The huge advantage of Bus Rapid Transit is that it can be implemented quickly – meaning that we can develop a vast rapid transit network without the capital costs of MRT or LRT – but it will only work if we have the network, not a few isolated services (much like hour our isolated bus lanes do not work) effectively;
- To include and accommodate existing stage bus operators – they can provide line-haul services on the Bus Rapid Transit or feeder services from the suburban areas to the terminal stations – with high quality standards and enforcement, of course.
If implemented, Bus Rapid Transit will change the face of public transport in Kuala Lumpur – and indeed in Malaysia. But it will not work by itself. The Bus Rapid Transit have to be a part of multiple projects to reduce the impact of single operator vehicles on our urban roads.
For fun, we conclude with these two interesting posts by Jarrett Walker of the blog Human Transit:
Bus rapid transit in india: an upbeat view (25 May 2010) talks about the challenges and opportunities of implementing Bus Rapid Transit in a number of cities in India.
Bus rapid transit: some questions to ask (26 November 2009) suggests that people ask specific questions about Bus Rapid Transit (for the purpose of gathering information) rather than passing judgement. The questions that Jarrett raises are:
- Are we talking about exclusive right of way? [TRANSIT: meaning that the buses would be fully separated from other traffic by kerbs/medians – considering our issues with bus lanes, we certainly need the kerbs];
- Is it a fully separated busway (like Brisbane/Ottawa?) [TRANSIT: One option for Bus Rapid Transit is a fully separated (or “Grade separated”) busway would run on its own exclusive road and could also run above or underground.]
- Are there exceptions to the stated degree of exclusivity and separation? If so, where, and why? [TRANSIT: These questions are important because the more we mess with the completeness of the network, the more problems we will have. Also, we have to consider existing bottlenecks which would disrupt the flow achieved by the bus-rapid transit system.]
- Is it “open” or “closed”? [TRANSIT: An “open” BRT system would allow other buses to enter and exit the system at various points – allowing a variety of services (fast one-seat trips from suburbs to town and back, along with frequent service along the corridor) – but with some disadvantages. A “closed” system is much like a LRT or MRT but using buses – no other vehicles can enter the system, there are “stations” and “ticketing systems” – we do not know the details yet but there would be an expectation of a mostly-closed system. We do know that there is already a plan to “close” the system to other operators.]
- Will they use existing stops or cut out certain stops? [TRANSIT: This question is specific to our situation in KL, where the BRT corridors would likely be implemented on existing public transport corridors & routes. More stops = slower service. Fewer stops = faster service but less convenience.]
- What about greenhouse gas emissions?
- What about localized emissions? [TRANSIT: Both in the urban areas and the bus depots]
- What is the overall level of design and amenity?
- How much money have we saved against the rail option, and how much more service will that buy?
We are going to be sending our own versions of the questions above to SPAD – it will be interesting to see what their response will be.